Comfort Zones, Dead Zones

Kage Baker was spared lengthy times of writer’s block during her professional life. A great deal of that was, I am sure, because she was demonically disciplined – to the point of a pure, untrammeled stream of obsession. Another very important component was that her actual professional life was brief, a mere 12 years or so; she did not have time to run dry. She wouldn’t allow it.

She had an enormous backlog of ideas, you see. She had been writing since her mother got too tired and busy to read Kage her favourite stories over and over: faced with a maternal strike, Kage was forced to come up with her own. There were, after all, 5 other kids in the household even before Katherine Baker started taking in strays like me … so Kage had to start filling in the missing bits of faerie tales and nursery rhymes and Martian Manhunter comic books. And from there, she began to develop her own stories.

Consequently, it was literally decades before she even considered publication that Kage learned to write all day, every day. It was during the storms and wars of adolescence – which are dreadfully rich and complicated in a household with 6 kids spaced a year apart each, believe me – that Kage also learned to use her writing as armour and fortress. It was the need to get some space for herself that also taught her many interesting and useful DIY skills of carpentry, wiring and plumbing, as well … and why she ended up living in a tower on top of her mother’s house, with all four walls made of windows.

When she moved out into more ordinary housing – slightly, anyway; we did live in the Hollywood Hills and various Faire sites – Kage kept all the habits that had sped her writing in her youth. She had managed to build herself a cloistered cell in the middle of a zoo: she kept it up. Hence, a corner of every place we lived – decaying Golden Age of Hollywood apartments, hovels, hooches or tents, occasional motor vehicles – was richly set about with screens and carpets and walled with glass, both mirrors and windows. And that was Kage’s fortress.

Nothing got in there that she did not want. Or if it did – vermin occur on all levels of all dimensions, after all – it was promptly and ruthlessly stomped. She had a fine volume control on her hearing, and established a militant control of our music system and  television remote. She eschewed newspapers and any magazine with current events (though she subscribed to Archeology and Britain Magazine).  I didn’t much care about television and our musical tastes overlapped sufficiently to make life run smoothly for us both with her selections. And she could write.

My contribution was to keep the outside world from interfering as much as possible. Standing sentry on the phone and mail and the door was pretty easy; it got harder when Kage discovered the glories of 200-odd television channels and the Internet. But she was sensible enough to avoid most sites that detailed the horrid events of modern life. And I learned to use parental controls to block news channels after Kage’s initial, brief, and debilitating addiction to CNN … current events weren’t good for her. Kage needed a dead zone around her in order to compose. I was the outside perimeter.

When she wanted to know something, she asked – a little. Then she would decide how much more was safe for her to learn. Her grasp of modern politics, wars, civic projects, natural disasters and media was therefore a constant “If A, then B” decision chain. And most decision choices defaulted to HELL NO, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

It also helped that, in Kage’s lifetime, the worst situations were outside her ken. Partly at her insistence, it is true, but also because she selected her intersections with current events with the same discipline she applied to her writing. To be a writer, you must WRITE. To live in peace and quiet, you must IGNORE THE WORLD.

No one I have ever known was better at it. I don’t even come close.

Did you know, Dear Readers, that right now all manner of mental health professionals are reporting record numbers of patients requesting anti-depressants for the first time? There is a matching increase in those asking for existing prescriptions to be increased. Many are middle class. Or thought they were. Or intended to be. Or used to be … in this age of the 24/7 news cycle, the omnipresent aether, the Medusoid social media, we all get the blues. And we all get them at the same time.

I’d like to believe that if I could shut out the world right now – I would. But maybe not. It’s a deep attachment; I like to know what is going on, and I do arrogantly dote on the idea that I can do something about it. And I’ve been the one who knows for so long, I can’t relinquish my post easily. I squint, I peek through my fingers, I shut my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears and sing LA LA LA as loudly as I can. Frequently, I run away screaming until the shaking stops and my neurotransmitters replenish.

In this dark age, it’s very hard for me to write. I need to work more and better at establishing a comfort zone, a safe space wherein I can dedicate myself to writing. The world is not actually going to fall apart if I take my blurry gaze off it – and I am no longer guarding anyone else, so I don’t need to keep the sand trays and maps up to military spec. The intelligence of the Rest of the World doesn’t need to matter to me. There isn’t that much of it, anyway … ha ha.

I’m building what I can, but it’s not easy. What I want, what I need, is a rose hedge 20 feet tall. In perpetual bloom, and with thorns 3 feet long. And a gazebo in the center, with a glass roof and an angel with a flaming sword at the doorway; I don’t care what direction he faces, if he keeps me in or the World out, as long as he’s good at it. A nicely upholstered dead zone. A comfort zone with claymores and lasers.

That’s what I need.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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